In many circumstances, tourism offers a powerful opportunity for sustainable funding of MPAs. But harnessing that potential can be daunting to managers unfamiliar with setting up financing schemes. And tourism itself can bring challenges related to potentially negative impacts on resources.

A new fund in Mexico aims to help MPA managers achieve a balance: harnessing the potential of ecotourism to generate revenue for park management, while using part of that revenue to help reduce tourism-related threats and measure success. Called FOSANP (Fondo Sudacaliforniano para Areas Naturales Protegidas), the fund captures voluntary donations from the tourism sector, using a variety of mechanisms. It then distributes the funding among six national MPAs in the Southern Baja California region of Mexico, while also offering programs to build the capacity of managers.

“FOSANP is based on the premise that tourists are interested in supporting protected area management in Southern Baja California,” says Gabriela Anaya, director of Niparaja, a Mexican NGO that jointly created the fund. (The other co-creators were The Nature Conservancy – a US-based NGO – and CONANP, the Mexican government’s Commission on Natural Protected Areas.) Development of the fund followed a survey in which tourists indicated their willingness to pay to help protect MPAs in the region. Each year, more than 80,000 tourists visit the six MPAs involved with the fund.

Revenue-generating mechanisms

The fund generates its revenue from three mechanisms:

  • Souvenir tags for diving and whale watching, offered for sale by tour operators, hotels, and restaurants. Tags cost US$10 or more.
  • Membership in “Friends of Wild Baja”, for which members receive a semi-annual electronic bulletin about the MPAs. Memberships cost US$25.
  • An “eco-tariff” program, in which participating hotels agree to donate US$1-$3 per guest to FOSANP.

The tags and membership programs have been operational for four months now, while the eco-tariff program is to be implemented this December, says Anaya. In the opening months of the program, US$3000 has already been raised, and the high tourism season is only just starting. “We feel optimistic about the fundraising capacity of FOSANP in the coming months,” says Anaya. She notes that the idea for each program was adapted from successful efforts elsewhere. The tags, for example, are based on similar programs conducted by Bunaken National Park in Indonesia and Bonaire National Marine Park in the Netherlands Antilles.

FOSANP is overseen by a board of directors consisting of tour operators, hotel owners, NGOs, MPA managers, and academics. The board will decide on how the revenues are to be used by the MPAs, and is also designing a framework for sustainable tourism in the region’s MPAs, to include capacity-building programs, education of tour operators, and tourism-impact monitoring plans for the participating sites. The board ultimately aims to expand the fund to assist all MPAs in the region.

So far, the six participating MPAs in FOSANP are Loreto Bay National Park, Cabo Pulmo National Park, Sierra La Laguna Biosphere Reserve, El Vizcaino Biosphere Reserve, Gulf of California Islands Flora and Fauna Reserve, and Cabo San Lucas Flora and Fauna Reserve. The sites feature ecosystems ranging from coastal lagoons, to deep submarine canyons, to the northernmost living coral reef in the Eastern Pacific.

For more information:
Gabriela Anaya Reyna, Sociedad de Historia Natural Niparaja, A.C., Fco. I. Madero 389, La Paz, B.C.S. 23,000, Mexico. Tel: +52 612 1 22 11 71; E-mail:

BOX: Another new fund in Baja California

FOSANP is not the only new fund in Mexico’s Southern Baja California region harnessing tourism revenues for MPAs. The Fund for the Conservation of the Gulf of California (FCGC) has been established by Lindblad Expeditions, a cruise line, to collect voluntary donations from its passengers. Each donation will be matched dollar-for-dollar twice: once by WWF, and again by the Mexican Nature Conservation Fund, a large public-private organization responsible for disseminating funds to many of Mexico’s federal protected areas.

There will be an annual call for proposals on how the funds may be spent. Only research institutions, NGOs, and certain other organizations may request money from FCGC to implement conservation projects within and outside protected areas in the region.

Lindblad Expeditions, which refers to the program as its “Baja Forever!” campaign, has operated a similar initiative in the Galapagos Islands for several years. Voluntary donations from passengers on Lindblad cruises have helped raise more than US$2 million since 1997 for conservation programs in the Galapagos National Park and Marine Reserve. An international advisory board meets regularly to select projects for funding. For more information on Lindblad Expeditions’ conservation efforts, visit